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Argentina found to be in contempt of court by US judge

US flag with vulture carrying bag of dollars Image copyright AP
Image caption In Buenos Aires, Argentines have protested against the repayment of money to so-called "vulture funds"

A US judge has ruled that the Republic of Argentina is in contempt of court for refusing to obey an order to repay the debt it owes to two US hedge funds.

Argentina has been mired in a US court dispute with the funds, which bought the country's debt at a discount after its default in 2001.

In July, Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina must repay the funds before it can repay other bondholders.

Argentina refused, sending the country into default.

Earlier on Monday, Argentina's ambassador to the US warned in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry that if the country was found to be in contempt of court, it would represent "unlawful interference" in Argentina's domestic affairs.

And in a strong statement, the Argentine Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires said Judge Griesa's ruling "violates international law" and "has no practical effect other than to provide new elements helpful to the slanderous political and media campaign conducted by vulture funds against Argentina".

It added: "Griesa holds the sad record of being the first judge to declare a sovereign state in contempt for paying a debt, after failing in his attempt to block the restructuring of the foreign debt of Argentina."

Judge Griesa said he would decide on a penalty at a later date.

Image copyright Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Graffiti depicting US Judge Thomas Griesa and vultures behind bars in Buenos Aires

'Vulture funds'

After Argentina defaulted on about $100bn (£61.5bn) of debt in 2001, the country negotiated a settlement with the majority of its bondholders to repay a certain portion of the amount owed.

Some bondholders accepted swaps for lesser-valued bonds but were not paid interest on those bonds.

However, two hedge funds - NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management - have demanded full repayment of the $1.5bn (£920m) they are owed, and have sued to prevent the country from paying back only its restructured bonds.

"Argentina has repeatedly and wilfully violated the orders of the court," they said in a complaint last week.

Argentina has refused, saying that they are "vulture funds", and has attempted to enact legislation to skirt Judge Griesa's ruling.

This has left two banks in New York - Bank of New York Mellon and Citigroup - with millions of dollars on hold that Argentina had planned to pay in interest to holders of its renegotiated debt.

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